Thoughts on Modeling Amps

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Some of my personal thoughts on modeling amps - by Miles S. Rose

In the past, I have written a lot on solid state amps versus tube amps, and modeling amps versus the amp originals they are modeling. Modeling amps have some strong points such as a lot of sounds for the dollar or in a given space, or for recording. Some think in a live venue, modeling amps can have limitations. To my way of thinking, this live aspect is sort of a “yes and no” to me, just as with any amp, tube, SS, or modeling amp.  I see many folks with 50 watt amps in small clubs, where the soul of the amp is never tapped. Put an amp like a Line 6 Vetta, Fender Cyber Deluxe or Cyber Twin, or Vox modeling amp out there, and you may be surprised.

Modeling amps may be just the ticket in any size venue, and in small venues where maximum overdrive is sought at rational levels, may be a super option.   Recently on a five day cruise with my family, there was one of the entertainers who covered just about every music style that was ever done, solo. He had a small rack with a Panasonic laptop.  This held his song list, and was on a music stand close at hand.  It had a sound card of some sort, and internal drum machine, sequencer, and midi outs to a small synth rack.  This was all fed into a stereo SS rig, used for PA speakers, and just there for clean sound.  His Guitar amp was a Line 6 Vetta.  He was a hit on the ship, and had more folks in one bar area, than most of the “conventional” bands on the ship.  He was a fun act to see.   His rig was light, portable, and very versatile.   In some cases, a modeling amp may be the ONLY proper choice.  Reflecting back on what I wrote on that cruise incident when I first produced this document, I have had additional thoughts brought on by questions from many folks.  This was my response to one forum post on the subject which I wrote:

There are some places where tube amps are totally unacceptable. Recently I was on a ocean cruise with my kids. The crew on these ships work seven days a week for at least a six month tour. Same for the entertainers. The ship gets back on a Friday morning, and leaves late that afternoon. No time to take an amp to a tech as one part of the situation.

Add to this, the players may be playing for the show in the big showroom one night, rock in a club the next, and jazz the next night. The amps are moved all over the place, and having an amp that does a number of things rather than excel at one thing, is really a prime consideration.

In this case, something like a Vetta, or even the Spyder, would be a killer amp to have. A Super Reverb, Mesa, or Marshall would be about the worst thing one could have.

It boils down to the right tool for the job.

I heard a few modeling amps on the cruise, and frankly, they were killer. The worst amp I heard was a tweed Fender Bass Breaker, whose tubes were shot, bias was off, and had at least one noisy and microphonic tube in the first gain stage. I was so bad I had to leave that rock lounge called something like China Town on Carnival to Ensenada (over Christmas) if anybody else that reads this was there.

Thank the tone gods for a fellow with a smaller Marshall Valvestate and another fellow in a Reggae band with a Line 6 Axis. They sounded great, and the guests loved them.

I personally prefer the PROPER wattage tube amp as first choice, but I will take the modeling amp every time over the wrong tube amp. Why? Modeling amps allow a degree of touch dynamics and tonal ranges to be captured at most any level. You have all sorts of controls for this ability. A Fender Tweed Bassman in a small venue will never be able to be cranked to it’s level of tone potential for some music styles. A Line 6 Vetta may pull off the “tweed sound” of the virtual Bassman in a much more convincing and pleasing manner, at least to my tastes.

I think to end this, all I can suggest is, listen to amps, and play them. See how they react to your touch. If this is not a part of your music and style, such as many folks that start the song at 110db and end it at 100db, then most any amp will work pretty well. As you develop an ear for different tone aspects, and fingers and touch that can give you at least two more playing dimensions, then you will move to the next step of being a better player, and also have a more heightened ability as a listener.




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Udpdated: 2/24/07